Analysis of Country School

Country School – Allen Curnow By Abdulla Al-Muhannadi In this poem ‘Country School’, Curnow basks in reminiscence of his old school where he drifts away in recalling his childhood. As this poem re? ects childhood reminiscence, the narrator seems to realise that things aren’t as dull and bad as they seemed before, along with the portrayal of the overall issue of ageing. However, the tone of the narrator seems to sway between enthusiastic and apathetic as there are many times when the tones seem to differ between two extremes. The persona is describing a country school that seems to be somewhat dilapidated in condition.

The vivid image drawn by the alliterative phrase ‘paint all peeled’ supports the fact that the school is indeed deteriorating. ‘Tufts topping’ enables the reader to visualise a country school architecture, with ‘pinus tufts’ on its ‘roof ridge’, establishing an image of a typical country school. Through the usage of colloquial language, these vivid images hold more detail then one might think they do at ? rst. For instance, the word ‘dunny’ evolves a picture of local Australian toilets enlightening the audience to the smallest of details.

Furthermore, ‘girls squeal skipping’ conjures up an auditory image as the little children are playing around him (supported by the sibilance). Several kinds of onomatopoeia help to describe what the persona is experiencing. THe ? uid ‘r’ sounds in ‘rank’ and ‘roof-ridge’ help to integrate the ideas, linking them and helping form a wider image of the country school. Also, the ‘b’ sounds in ‘bargeboard, weatherboard’ and ‘gibbet belfry’ calls attention to the detailed observation, helping build up a solid image. Curnow employs parallelism as well as repetition in order to create links in this poem.

The parallel comparison, or contrast, of ‘how small; how sad’, draws a link with how he seems to be recalling his days back in school. The passing of time and his ageing is revelaed as the very doors that seemed huge from a child’s point of view, are now described as being rather ‘small’. The persona refers to himself as a third person and this is deduced through the repetition of the word ‘you’. Perhaps the persona had a rough time reconnecting with his old school that he felt more comfortable referring to himself as a third person rather than ? rst. The rhyme scheme is irregular; perhaps something that re? cts his irregular pattern of this recollection of memories. It also reveals the lack of assurance, and the hard time he seems to have re-adjusting to his past. ALthough is does follow an imperfect rhyme scheme (e. g. topping-skipping; waves-eaves; than-began; small-wall), the ? uctuating rhymes and discordant sounds allows the audience to notice his discomfort while revisiting his school. Curnow has made use of an unstable structure (so to speak), for the poem doesn’t hold a constant number of stanzas, rather it begins with 3 and 5-lined stanzas and ends with two 4-lined stanzas.

This growth of stability, signi? ed by the proper structure of the last two stanzas, re? ects the growth or the increase in the poet’s clarity of understanding. It’s as though he ? nally realised that the very things that were unsettling or intimidating to him as a child (e. g. ‘terrible doors’) are not as bad as they looked. This minor epiphany seems to be mimicked by the structure of the poem itself. Similarly, the narrator seems to get distracted momentarily and this can be shown in the second stanza after ‘Pinus betrays’. While observing the pinus he drifts away into talking about how they function.

However, he does get back on track in the third stanza (‘for scantling pinus’) as his focus shifts back to the tall trees that seem to be guarding the school. There is the use of enjambment as well: ‘‘paint all peeled on bargeboard’, ‘scattering bravely Nor’ West gale’, etc. This suggests the pace at which the narrator seems to be remembering his past and the sense of excitement is established with this upbeat pace. The poet employs colloquial language, chie? y to perhaps connect with his audience and communicate on an informal level by talking about something as casual as ‘school’. Gibbet belfry’ would be an example of his simplistic yet local language helping the reader further visualise the school and its locality in detail. The idea that the school started along with the persona himself brings into notice that it might not be as old as one would think. ‘you call it old’ further suggests that he is merely just referring to the school as being ‘old’ when it’s not in actuality. The idea of ageing has been linked to the pinus trees that grow mature ‘in less than the life of a man’. This line suggests that the time period for a tree to gain maturity is lesser than the time taken for humans.

The word ‘scantling’ further backs this idea for as it describes the measurement of the maturity of the tree and to deduce its time of harvest. Similarly, the word ‘terrible’ implies that the poet wasn’t actually fond of the tiny doors when he was a child, and its reference as being ‘sad’ suggests its dilapidated state. It’s through words like these that the audience is able to sense a hint of unpleasantness in the poet’s past as he fails to hold an optimistic approach to this walk down memory lane. Rather the tone seems to be somber and melancholic. Furthermore, it insinuates that the narrator pities the state of his school.

This poem holds a variety of ? gures of speech used and this perhaps re? ects the variety of emotions he himself goes through in this nostalgic visit to his old school. Alliterative phrases such as ‘paint peeled’, ‘roof-ridge’ and ‘tufts topping’ all help the audience in building up a vivid image of the school. A similar imagery effect is achieved through the series: ‘bargeboard, weatherboard and gibbet belfry’. Using neologism (made-up word), the phrase ‘snub-worn’ points out that the school isn’t in the best of its condition as the ? oors have worn out. The pinus trees that portray the same pace of ageing have been personi? d as they’ve been accused of betraying the school and not guarding the roof rom the rattling ‘Nor’ West gale’. However, the trees have also been described as ‘scattering bravely’, perhaps an attempt to denote the nobility of what the tree is doing for the school (by scattering the strong winds and defending the meek school structure). This task of the trees has been compared to the ‘reef’ through the analogy ‘as a reef its waves’ for the wind is scattered just as the tidal waves are scattered by the reef, drawing an interesting comparison with the two elements wind and water.

In addition, the comparison of the ages between the narrator himself and the trees establishes through the usage of polyptoton (where words/phrases derived from the same root are repeated) ‘less than a life of a man’ and ‘together your lives began’ further stating the common point in time as they simultaneously began this process of ageing. The poet holds a humorous, as well as a sarcastic, tone when saying ‘O sweet antiquity’ as it’s been made clear that they’re not so old, let alone antique. Curnow has successfully, in my opinion, demonstrated through this persona, someone who seems to be in denial of growing old.

It’s obvious that the narrator is just as old as the school, but we ? nd him calling the school antique, suggesting that he doesn’t feel like he’s getting older but ? nds it okay to exaggerate other’s age (sort of comedically hypocritical I would say! ). Through the poem, I’ve realised that it’s still possible to savour the past without having to hold the same perspective. In that sense, times change and so does one’s perspective, however, it doesn’t mean that things remain the same throughout and the very things that seemed unpleasant once upon a time might seem laughable now (as Curnow clearly demonstrated in the poem).

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